Why are we so out of order? Doing things well is a challenge

When we look at the social and economic problems that face Jamaica, so many of them stare us in the face–or are thrown into our faces. We do not need deep study to see them. We may need deep analysis to solve them. One of these problems is our inability to make things work as they should, and to live with unnecessary disorganization. This is made more frustrating when the persons involved are amongst the nation’s best and brightest. Some of the problem comes from a certain desire to just keep do things a certain way. We see the proximate results all the time, in little and large manner: garbage; bad driving; poor service; broken public appliances; unkempt surroundings; huge public deficit and heavy debt burden; failed businesses; shortages of goods; high unemployment. It’s a very long list. We are in tyrannical drive to make failure our friend.escher51

Last Saturday, a group of men and women were ready to start a well-publicized charity golf event at 10am. Most of us were at the venue at least two hours ahead of that time, to have some breakfast, warm up, register and socialize. The organizers and sponsors were in the process of setting up the publicity banners and the entertainment for later in the day. When some of us tried to register at around 8.45, we were told to come back ‘in a while’. No line had formed, then. When we came back, a line of about 25 persons was snaking its way towards a table with two men taking details and writing them down. The line soon split when we were told that those had not yet paid needed to go to another point to do that first. Of course, that process was slow: some wanted to pay by check, or credit card; some were paying for more than one person, etc. Eventually, all of that was done and we were ready to go.

Not so soon, hombré. Golf carts were lacking for what seemed like about a quarter of the participants. We tried to find who was handling the carts (notionally, the caddy master): the man was nowhere to be found. We saw that many carts already had clubs on, and deduced that those who ‘knew the ropes’ had captured the carts as soon as they arrived. Shouting, recriminations, excuses, etc. followed for the next 20 minutes: the entry fee had included cost of cart; hiring a caddy to carry bags would have been an extra expense.

We were well past 10am. A heavy shower came down and people took shelter. When the rain cleared, the organizers made their opening announcements, apologized for the ‘cart situation’ and said they would try to rectify it during the early part of play. At just after 11am, we scattered for the ‘shotgun’ start. My partner, a doctor who had recently returned to Jamaica, had arthritis problems, so really needed transport; I like walking. The caddy master, who had a good dose of haranguing, arranged for a young greens keeper to carry the doctor’s bag and we put what excess weight we could on the cart of our partnering pair. The caddy master put all of our bags on a maintenance cart and whisked us off to our start point.

Each of us playing in my group had spent part of our lives living and working outside Jamaica. We, and others railed (not marvelled, because that would be positive) that we were ‘stuck in this old way’. The doctor, angered, derided Jamaica as wanting to be forever stuck in the third world. We discussed what seemed to be wrong and possible easy solutions.

Problem: Too many players, too few carts: More people than expected had entered the tournament. (It should not have been apparent only at the time we were due to start. That was a great thing, as all the proceeds went to support a hospital.)

  • Solutions: Cater for that, by either adding from own resources or arranging support from others–there is at least one other golf course within one mile. (If one course cannot work with another, that goes to another problem about doing business. You want contented customers, not living with solvable problems.) If no extra supply were available, then arrangements needed to be made FOR EVERYONE BEFOREHAND to ensure that all who needed or wanted bags carried were given the means for that. Not letting people run helter-skelter trying to solve individual needs on the fly. (Don’t invite me to dinner, then tell me you don’t have enough plates.)

Problem: Registration and payment delays

  • Solutions: 1. Start it earlier. Make it clear that payment must be done at a different desk. 2. Registration could be done first and payment could be done after play. Every player has to submit a signed and attested card and it could be that no score would be valid unless proof of payment was shown. (Any player not paying would be clear as a non-paid registration.)

Problem: Informing players that play would start late. (People like to be kept informed so that they can plan their own activities, and it’s just courteous.)

  • Solutions: It’s too simple with a PA system already set up and everyone captive waiting to start. But, it takes a clear head and idea of how to organize formally. (Smiling wistfully and not doing anything doesn’t cut it. Communication seems to be a basic problem in many aspects of Jamaican daily life.)

Many keen observers of Jamaica have focused on another aspect of what can be seen as a certain indiscipline that seems to quickly pervade many things in our daily life. As Jamaicans will say, “Ah so we dweet!” (“That’s how we do it!”) I read two excellent pieces on that this morning: the most recent, by Dennis Chung, entitled Discipline and Development in Jamaica; another, entitled Indiscipline and the unravelling of the social fabric, from early in 2013 by Howard Gregory, The Lord Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. Both focus in different ways on what that indiscipline is costing us in economic and social terms.

Clearly, many of us have internalized the costs of indiscipline and inefficiency. For instance, we allow more time to deal with habitual lateness. We just get on with what we need to do, DESPITE the inefficiency that we have to face. (Indeed, one of the problems we face is that, often, we still end up with good results but wonder if we had to go through the hoops to acheive them. We see the same behaviour displayed repeatedly–and many with know the definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Even if we are not mad ourselves, we are often maddened by such behaviour.

The indiscipline and inefficiency hit the headlines in the form of avoidable disasters. Just last week, we heard of the avoidable death of a tourist killed by a jet ski. Problems had been identified and were supposedly address with restrictions on imports and a ‘clampdown’. But, clearly not enough was being done. Result? A needless death and then recriminations, then cries for solutions. As they say in many team sports: “Just do your job!” That would take us a long way.

We would also benefit from getting out of jobs people who are not doing them well. My friend should count for nothing if he is constantly making my life and that of my friends and associates difficult. Get in someone who can do it better.

Gandhi is credited with saying “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Dame Margaret Thatcher was pleased with Ministers who brought solutions not problems. However, I wonder how many of us have tried to effect change, rather than tolerate what does not work. I ask with no guess at an answer. My playing partners and I solved our immediate problem well, and enjoyed to getting to know each other–we’d never met before. I hope others did something similar. I will go next to attack the problem, closer to its source. Wish me well.